Sunday

17th Jun 2018

EU Commission defiant ahead of Selmayr hearing

  • 'Selmayr (r) will not step down because I'm the only one being capable to ask him to step down,' EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (l) said last week (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission was accused of "patronising" MEPs on Sunday (25 March) after calling on the "Brussels bubble" to stop questioning the appointment of its new secretary general.

The EU executive released at 3AM on Sunday its answers to 134 questions asked by MEPs as part of an investigation by the European Parliament's budgetary control committee over alleged irregularities in Martin Selmayr's controversial appointment last month.

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The questions were sent last week, ahead of a hearing on Tuesday with the commissioner in charge of human resources, Guenther Oettinger. The vote of a resolution by all MEPs is planned for 19 April.

The commission said that the 80-page document "confirms" that the decision was "in full compliance with all legal rules."

In a tweet Sunday afternoon, the commission's deputy spokesman Alexander Winterstein added that "perhaps it is time for the Brussels bubble to mind important things".

The commission's messages triggered an angry reply from the head of the parliament committee, German centre-right MEP Inge Graessle.

In two tweets in German and English, she asked the commission to "let the committee do its job without that kind of paternalistic interference." She insisted that while the commission's opinion is already known, it will be the MEPs "duty" to have their "own assessment" of the replies to their questions.

Selmayr, who was the head of cabinet of commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, was appointed on 21 February.

The surprise move, decided in a few minutes in a meeting where no commissioner, apart from Oettinger and the commission first vice president Frans Timmermans knew about it, has been followed by outrage over its lack of transparency and possible irregularities.


During the meeting, Selmayr was first briefly appointed deputy secretary general, then within minutes secretary general Alexander Italianer resigned, and Selmayr was proposed by Juncker to take Italianer's position.

While the commission has insisted that rules were "religiously followed", French centre-right MEP Francoise Grossetete said that Selmayr's promotion was a "mystification worthy of the Chinese Communist Party".

"The commission will have to choose what is more important: the credibility of the commission or the career of Mr Selmayr. The two are irreconcilable," liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld said during a parliament debate on the issue earlier this month.

The controversy was fueled by Selmayr's personality and role - nicknames such as 'Rasputin' or 'the monster' describe his power and ruthlessness inside the EU executive - as well as the commission's early obfuscation of some facts about how the decision was taken.

It also took a political turn from the beginning, since Juncker himself went to the press room to announce it.

'Normal practice'

In its replies to MEPs, the commission insisted that the decision to move Selmayr to the institution's top administrative position was taken "unanimously" by the college and that it followed the same procedure as for the appointment his three predecessors since 2000.

It said that the proposal to move Selmayr was not discussed before the college meeting, even among commissioners' heads of cabinet, "in accordance to normal practice and in order to safeguard the necessary degree of confidentiality".

It also argued that Selmayr's move as secretary general was not a "promotion" but a "transfer in the interest of service" because he already held the AD15 administrative grade.

The commission also added that his appointment had "a negative effect on his salary and emoluments."

The commission confirmed that Selmayr was the only candidate for deputy secretary general after the other candidate withdrew during the process, and it confirmed that this other candidate was Selmayr's own deputy Clara Martinez Alberola.

It also confirmed that while Italianer has kept his resignation secret until the college meeting, he had told Juncker about his intention to leave on 1 March 2018 when Juncker appointed him in 2015, and that Juncker had shared the information with Selmayr.

"The Emperor still looks stark naked to me," MEP in 't Veld reacted in Twitter after reading the commission's replies.

The commission's defiant tone follows report last week by the Politico website that Juncker privately threatened to quit if Selmayr had to go.

"Selmayr will not step down because I'm the only one being capable to ask him to step down," Juncker told reporters at a EU summit last week.

'Consequences must be drawn'

But the bigger goal of MEPs, a senior member of the EU parliament said last week, would be to make Selmayr's position so fragile that he cannot stay in his post when a new commission president comes in in 2019.

At the summit last week, both German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron praised Selmayr's "professionalism" and abilities to hold his job.



While Merkel admitted that "transparency" was need in appointment processes, Macron went further and said that "consequences must be drawn when all the elements about the truth of the procedures will be known."

In a thinly-veiled criticism of the commission's position over the case, Macron added that "the work of journalists and MEPs is very important."

Interview

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The controversy over the new EU Commission top civil servant is revealing of what is wrong with EU institutions and how they are blocked by national governments, says award-winning Austrian novelist Robert Menasse.

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MEPs rallied against the stellar promotion of the new EU commission's secretary general, amid broader fears that the institution's integrity was in tatters, further weakening its credibility when tackling rule of law issues.

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At the court of the EU bubble kings

The elevation of Martin Selmayr to the position of secretary general highlights how far the EU Commission has gone in disconnecting itself from what it is supposed to represent: the general interest.

MEPs condemn Selmayr job 'coup' but no resignation call

In a draft resolution, the EU Parliament says that the appointment of Martin Selmayr as the commission's new secretary general "possibly overstretched the limits of the law" - but ask only for a review of the rules.

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